celebrating 65 years of faith and commitment!

celebrating 65 years of faith and commitment!

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14

Sixty-five years ago today, in the quiet town of Rayleigh, about 40-miles to the east of London in the county of Essex, Grace Ellen Watts Kemp married David Frederick Maul. The couple honeymooned in the Wye Valley, then immediately occupied a small flat on the waterfront in Folkestone, Kent, overlooking the English Channel.

Then, before the ink had even dried from their signatures on that first lease, they joined Folkestone Baptist Church, living the Good News, worshipping God, encouraging others, supporting the ministry, and participating without wavering for the next 28 years.

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celebrating together!

Over the six and a half decades (to date) of their marriage, my parents have lived as eloquent and faithful witnesses to the promises they made all those years ago in the Rayleigh Baptist Church.

One of the key reasons this particular marriage has worked so well is – I believe – the fact that my mum and dad have always lived out their commitment in the context of not only their personal faith, but the community of faith.

We can have the loftiest ideas, ideals, principles, plans, and intentions, but we were designed by our Creator to be beings who are defined by relationship – relationship to one another, and relationship with God. We need – and our relationships need – the prayers, the love, the support, the encouragement, and the accountability of the Body of Christ.

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So the most happiest of anniversaries to you, Grace and David Maul; may your marriage continue to both inspire and encourage the rest of us along the way. And, it is also my prayer that more people will understand the necessary relationship between a marriage that works and an unwavering commitment to follow the Living Way of Jesus.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

Come and See!

Come and See!

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” – John 1:35-39

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Introducing new members at WFPC

Good grief! Yesterday was a Sunday that left me breathless. From playing guitar with pastor John and receiving a large group of new members at 9:00 worship, to seeing a group of young people commit themselves to follow Jesus at 11:15, to driving to Rocky Mount to do my “presbytery photographer” thing in the afternoon, to covering James Taylor’s “Shower the People” at the youth dinner-theater and auction in the evening.

What it all added up to was – is – life, irrepressible life that leaves us both energized and exhausted at the same time. Sometimes, living the good story lends itself to contemplation, quietness, reflection, and stillness… but yesterday was most certainly not one of those days!

If you are one of those people who leaves your spirituality on the back burner, and who believes there are dozens of more interesting or rewarding things to do on a Sunday that make church an increasingly unlikely choice, then I have to say, simply, “Come and see.”

“Come and see,” is the essential Jesus brand of sharing the good news. The most effective way to communicate just how life-changing it is to follow Jesus is to live out the truth in a way that stands as an open invitation.

Authenticity:

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WFPC this Sunday – not a stock image!

Back in Florida I interviewed literally hundreds of preachers for a long-running series that ran in The Tampa Tribune. I researched one ministry ahead of my appointment with the minister, and the website was full with images featuring large crowds, a modern worship facility, families, young adults, a dynamic praise band, and more.

We met in the preacher’s home, and when I pressed him he finally admitted all the photographs on his website were stock images he’d found online. In actuality the church had eleven members (six were his family), eight to ten in attendance, no property, no band, and no real plan.

It turns out this man was more interested in drumming up donations than actually building the Kingdom of God.

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Rebekah charging the young people to follow Jesus

But Jesus wants us to become so filled up with his life that it spills out of us as a natural invitation to know God. This is what we’re interested in at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church; this is what drives everything that we do; this is why I can confidently say, “Come and see.”

There is a reason there is this “buzz” of excitement in the building every Sunday morning. It’s because commitment to – and participation in – this kind of faith community always leads to a deeper walk with God, a more abundant, transformational, experience of day-to day-life, and a satisfaction it’s impossible to understand in any other context.

Come and see – DEREK

 

grace and redemption leave no room for judgment…

The Unmaking of a Part Time ChristianFor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. – Galatians 5:6

Today I’m thinking about our relationship to God as people who are redeemed, forgiven, welcomed, accepted, and covered by the reach of God’s amazing, invitational, and generous grace.

This was what we talked about at this morning’s meeting of the Saturday morning men’s covenant group. The group – which has now grown from the initial three to the eleven men who attended today – is studying one of my favorite books. The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian (Upper Room Books) is a collection of stories and meditations exploring the difference between church membership and a commitment to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Judge or Redeemer?

This week’s chapter, titled “Judge or Redeemer” explored some of the pitfalls of building a religion around judgment, finger-pointing, and condemnation. Too many “Christians” focus on what’s wrong with everyone else, rather than standing in humble gratitude that – because of Jesus – even they are welcomed with open arms.

That’s right, I said “even they.” It doesn’t matter what our sin is, what our accomplishments are, what denomination we associate with, whether we were sprinkled or immersed, how precisely accurate our doctrine is, or where we fall in relation to a whole catalog of debatable issues, each one of us will stand before God on equal footing, and we will stand with confidence because of Jesus.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1-4

Oh, but don’t we still love so much to be “right,” and to point out where others have gone astray? So we talked about this a lot, and we all shared how much it means to us to understand the scope of God’s grace and to know – personally – that we are forgiven and free.

“We’re all broken,” Ed pointed out; “we all need mercy and forgiveness and grace.”

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image found on-line

“It’s like this,” I said, grabbing an illustration out of the air that seemed to work at the time. “Imagine a child standing in the kitchen with the shattered remains of a teapot all over the floor. I guess we could respond by berating the child harshly, pointing out every broken piece, criticizing their teapot handling technique, raking them over the coals, telling them repeatedly what a terrible person they are for messing up – and then angrily denounce them for their carelessness and disregard of property. We could go over everything they did leading up to moment the pot broke, and decide exactly which error, which abomination, which sin was the most egregious….

Or – alternatively – we could put our arms around the child and say, “I love you;” and then we could say, “let’s see what we can do to make this right.”

Let’s Make This Right…

God has given us what we need to make this right. We can celebrate God’s generous love and grace, we can invite others to share in this joy, and we can live humbly as forgiven people.

It’s not any specific behavior, or adherence to a particular doctrine, or religious ritual, or repetition of the right magic phrase that grants us the honor of a relationship with God – No, it’s Jesus who makes redemption possible. This privilege is ours to accept, or to reject.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that – through him, the world might be saved. – John 3:17

The invitation is on the table – DEREK 

our lives tell the story

our lives tell the story

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”

Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?”

Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.” – John 18:35-37

Every Wednesday evening, my men’s covenant group is always – without fail – a significant blessing. Our time is a great mixture of insightful Bible-study, great conversation, heart-level sharing, listening, support, encouragement, and – most importantly – simply being together.

I leave our church not only full, and inspired, but thoughtful. Stuff we talk about takes up residence in the “mulling” portion of my brain (btw, if your brain doesn’t have a designated mulling slot, then you should definitely get one), and percolates – usually for several days.

This week we talked about trouble, difficulty, challenge, and tragedy. We used the Old Testament story of Joseph as our scripture reference, and our conversation circled around what story we tell about the gospel via the way that we respond.

PASSION = INVITATION

unnamed (4)-001I used this image – from the pastors’ conference I spoke at a couple of weeks ago – because of what’s on the screen behind me. It’s not the most flattering photograph ever taken of yours truly, but I love the words, “Your passion is an invitation…”

What I was talking about was the fact that people can read between the lines, not only when we talk, but as we live – especially as we live. If we have no evident passion for the good news about Jesus, then it really doesn’t come across as good news, does it? Our lives tell the story. Our lives become the most eloquent invitation that we can offer.

Fact is, we don’t chose whether or not to be witnesses. “It’s not my spiritual gift; I’ll leave that up to those who feel called to be a witness…” Nope, sorry, that’s not how it works. We are living witnesses to the faith we profess. The question is not if we are communicating about Jesus, the question is what story is it that we are telling?

  • The question is not if we are communicating about Jesus, the question is what story is it that we are telling?

One question we talked about Wednesday was living with courage. But this is something we seem to have all backwards in our popular culture. Aggression, fighting back, responding in kind when we are berated, returning evil for evil… these are all advertised – and modeled in the shows and movies we watch – as acts of courage. Christians get sucked into this too: “believers” are often hostile to those they disagree with; lawsuits are filed within churches; there are multiple splits and schisms; bad behavior is parsed as defending truth (who’s truth?)….

Bullying, hate, vitriol, fighting… these are not acts of courage. Jesus said this, just before he allowed them to nail him to a wooden cross: “My kingdom doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king” (John 18:36).

Jesus – “I am not that kind of king.”

This is one of those “no-brainer” statements that I’ve used many times before, but I’m going yo say it anyway. Jesus is our model; following Jesus means being imitators of God. Yet, so much of the time, Christians do the opposite: Instead of remaking ourselves in the image of Christ, we try to reinvent Jesus in the image of us.

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children… – Ephesians 4:31-5:1

Courageous men and women of the light follow Jesus. We do tell a story in the way that we live and how we respond to the challenges we face – so let’s get the story right! – DEREK

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talking about discipleship

how a great dinner party is like church…

how a great dinner party is like church…

Jesus – “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35

I have often wondered why I enjoy dinner parties so much – especially when they are at our home. You have to make the house look nice ahead of time, and then there’s all that food prep, plus the task of cleaning the kitchen afterwards often carries over to the following day. It’s a lot of work.

Yet, serving good food, then sitting around the table with friends enjoying great conversation, is absolutely one of the best possible ways to spend an evening that I know.

Maybe it’s the all-inclusive theme of nourishment? Nourishing our bodies; nourishing our spirits; nourishing our relationships. Fact is, we were created specifically for the purpose of enjoying community – communion both with God and with one another. Being together, breaking bread in community, is always a spiritual experience. It’s a spiritual experience any where, any time.

I love the way Peterson paraphrases Christ’s words about this – “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there” (Matthew 18:20).

Monday night’s gathering included three newly elected WFPC church officers and their spouses. Jon and Tony will be serving as elders, and Joy is a new deacon. They just finished eight weeks of training with Rebekah, and will be ordained May 28.

Leadership:

Rebekah’s theory of leadership development centers around the principle of building community. We are invited to know one another, to share our stories, to love each other, to pray for each other, to grow in faith together, and to do the work of The Church from the context of a mutual love for Jesus, and a shared ministry.

This is not the same as agreeing about everything, sharing the same political views, thinking in lockstep, or rubber-stamping all the pastor’s ideas. Building community means:

  • doing life together;
  • understanding that we all follow the same Lord;
  • sharing a commitment to encourage one another along the path;
  • praying together;
  • learning together;
  • loving unconditionally;
  • celebrating together… holding one another up when there is grief to bear;
  • being willing to struggle together;
  • honoring those who see things from different perspectives;
  • sharing our hopes and dreams as well as our fears and doubts;
  • living our faith – not anonymously but out loud.

Breaking bread together is what the church looks like. Having people around our table for dinner is not only a manifestation of the Body of Christ, it’s part of what it takes to be the church.

Being the Body of Christ is a one hundred percent investment; 24-7; 7-52. If church is only something you do when you’re at 12605 Capital Blvd, or when you’re “on the clock,” then it likely never really was church to begin with.

So…

So there I go, beginning with a post about a dinner party and ending by talking about how we build community and grow together as the Body of Christ!

But I don’t think I diverged at all. I believe that if The Church (our church, your church, any church) is going to be relevant at all over the next few decades, then it has to more completely define itself – redefine itself if necessary – in terms of intentional community.

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With Rebekah at WPC

Jesus was as clear about this as he was about anything: “The world is going to be convinced of the truth about me – my life, my words, my invitation to know God – only to the extent that you all (y’all – the church) demonstrate authentic love – in effect modeling my love as a vibrant community, an invitation, a living testimony to grace” (John 13 – author paraphrase).

Why don’t you come and see?

In love, and most certainly because of love – DEREK

do we dare to enter the Promised Land?

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 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – Ephesians 3:14-17

If you read this space often you know that occasionally (around every six weeks) I feature a link to a message from Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. Sometimes it’s because the sermon is so inspiring I just had to share; sometimes it’s because – even though we never collaborate – the content adds perfectly to the conversation I’m having on this page; sometimes it’s because the preaching communicates far beyond what I could manage here, no matter how well I might write.

Then, sometimes (and this was the case Sunday May 14) it’s all three, and I am simply doing a public service by encouraging you to take a few minutes to listen!

Looking into the Promised Land!

Chrome Legacy Window 5152017 31136 PMThe title of Sunday’s sermon was “A Prayer for Wake Forest Presbyterian Church” – but the content is timely, and applicable, and crucial to absolutely any faith community, anywhere, at any time.

The theme paralleled the main idea from the blog I had posted that very morning (“The Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of the Nations“); the setting was Moses looking out over the Promised Land (I had just shared some slides of that very view at church Friday evening); then Rebekah’s level of vitality and engagement while preaching this week, as well as her storytelling, was at its very best.

If you’re someone who has lost enthusiasm for church, or who subscribes to the false narrative that Presbyterians don’t have any passion for Jesus, or who isn’t exposed to great preaching very often, then you owe it to yourself – and your faith – to check out this message (it starts around time stamp 10:00 on the link).

How Wide and How Deep:

Chrome Legacy Window 5162017 90122 AMUsually I can do a fair job of keeping the lid on my emotions at church (I really don’t like to have to dab my eyes or to deal with wet cheeks in public); but Rebekah’s story about “The Young Mothers’ Class” was so poignant, and the way it all came together at the end of the sermon so breathtakingly inspiring, that I had to work hard not to leak any more than just a little.

But it’s okay, God is continually challenging me to get over myself, and I am always moved by the power of a great story. Fact is, we all need to take a few bricks out of the walls we build around ourselves, and especially to dismantle the barriers we place between the deeper parts of our emotional core and the reach of God’s love. Sometimes conviction can leave us vulnerable, and feeling less in control.

But we belong to God, and this important truth sets up the second part of the reading from Ephesians: 

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (18-19).

How can we possibly grasp how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is if we don’t let God in? How can we be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God if we keep ourselves closed so tightly?

Do we really want to be the kind of disciples Jesus invites us to be? Do we really want to be the kind of churches Jesus is calling us to be? Do we really want to be filled to the measure of all fullness? Do we have any interest in entering the Promised Land?

If so, then we’re going to have to disassemble our defenses and trust God; we’re going to have to believe; we’re going to have to live our faith like we mean it…

(If you’d like to listen to the message, click here)

portraits around Mother’s Day

portraits around Mother’s Day

The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26

For our family, Mother’s Day turns out to be one more excuse to get together and celebrate life. Of course, it helps to have a handy assortment of mothers available, and I was pleased to be able to rustle up three generations for the perfunctory photo shoot. Then, adding our granddaughter Beks to the mix, that’s four generations of girls.

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Karen “PhD” Tharrington with Rebekah

At church, the day also turned the spotlight on those celebrating their graduation. One notable exception to the “I’m heading off to college” crowd was our friend Karen, who recently completed seven years of hard work to earn her PhD.

Everyone is excited when they get to graduate, but I believe Karen likely raised the bar to a new level! Rebekah and I stopped by her “PhDone” party Saturday evening, hoping for some of the brilliance and creativity to rub off on us. Listening to Rebekah’s sermon the next morning (see tomorrow’s post), I’m certain that a lot of it did!

It is, as I have written many times, a remarkable blessing to have my parents living so close. I don’t have to send flowers by FedEx, I can just walk next door. I don’t have to leave for the weekend to cook my mum a Mother’s Day dinner, we can just invite them over.

Additionally, Naomi and the children drove down from Richmond in time for church at Wake Forest Presbyterian, so our family dinner was the quality of busy, noisy, love-charged experience that nourishes both our bodies and our souls.

Often, I have to pinch myself to check that I am still living in reality! I’m so unbelievably blessed, and I don’t take this privilege lightly.

IMG_9652Life is not always easy – I understand that, nor is it always convenient, or pain-free, or necessarily fair; but there are moments – like this weekend on Mother’s Day – where the balance tips so markedly that it’s hard to remember how often there are times of struggle too.

It’s like one of our elders said Sunday, following such a great morning of love, encouragement, affirmation, and inspiration at WFPC – a celebration of abundant life that was spilling out into the community as everyone went their separate ways: “What a great morning! I think this is exactly what our founding fathers had in mind all those years ago. This is America at its best.”

To be sure, this is a Great Adventure; and it is so good, so very good, to reflect on how exceedingly wonderful life can be, and to be grateful.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

Enjoy these few Portraits around Mother’s Day:

the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations…

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The angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. It flows down the middle of the street of the city. The tree of life is on each side of the river, and it produces fruit every month, twelve times a year. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations. – Revelation 22:1-2

IMG_9540I understand that growth is a natural process, and that part of the definition of life necessarily involves change, but sometimes I’m blown away by how dramatic biology is when it runs rampant in the garden and beyond.

We’ve had good rains over the past couple of weeks, plus sunshine in between. The result has been green, and lots of it, leaves bursting forth, and Wake Forest turning pretty much into Wake Jungle overnight.

It’s hard to witness this kind of vitality and not think about how we measure up as Christians compared to the constituent markers of real life. In case we’ve forgotten, here are a few:

Life is revealed by change, by growth, by an active metabolism, and by replication. If an organism is alive, then we see evidence of all these processes.

The same question is telling when it comes to the Body of Christ, the church. We are often afraid of, and resistant to, the very processes that turn out to be signs of life.

  • IMG_9538-001Change is often considered an enemy;
  • Growth can threaten our sense of identity and control;
  • An active metabolism (the processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life) requires a steady diet of exercise, fresh air, sunlight, and nourishment;
  • Replication can make us nervous because it demands an active interface with the world around us.

Many faith communities die because change is evidence of the breath of the Spirit of God, and that’s not something that fits tidily into our club rules. We say “no thank you” to living water because it’s not something we can control. We hide ourselves from the light because we have become too used to the dark. And we neglect to feast on the bread of life because – as Jesus said – “My food is to do the Father’s will,” and we’d rather starve than follow Jesus outside the safety of our church fortress and take his kind of life into the world of pain and need.

Consequently we don’t breath, we won’t drink, we can’t bear the light, and we take a pass on real food. Churches like that fail to exhibit signs of life because they’re hardly breathing. They die because we won’t change, don’t grow, fail to metabolize, and refuse to replicate.

The very things Christian communities often resist are the exact things that will ensure we do more than simply survive, they will help us to thrive!

When we insist on remaining rooted to our own dogma to the extent that we shut out the Spirit of God, then we have failed the “vital signs” test of life. We can protect the status quo if we want to, but in the final analysis the status quo is always ours, not God’s.

Lightly Christianized religiosity will no more earn us a berth in God’s kingdom than any other religion, or any other anything that’s not animated by living water, the bread of life, and the breath of the Spirit – and marked by the evidence of life (change, growth, an active metabolism, replication).

“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations….”

 

 

Bible Lands in 12 photos – the short version of a long story

Friday evening Rebekah and I had a lot of fun with a segment of our wonderful church family. The “JOY” group (Just Older Youth) are a gathering of “seniors” who meet once a month for food, fellowship, and some kind of a program.

So, after an amazing covered dish buffet dinner, I presented a lecture/slide show from our trip to the Bible Lands. The challenge was to distill what had once been a five-night travelog and Bible study into a sixty-minute talk featuring just 220 photographs.

I pulled it off in an hour and fifteen minutes, mixing a constantly moving stream of photographs with stories, scriptures, and interesting facts. The presentation – according to all accounts – went well. And – surprising to me in a crowd of forty – only two other people had even been to Egypt or Israel.

Chatting afterwards, a couple of people asked a version of this interesting question. “So, if this was a stripped down version of a five-night lecture series, then what would you show us if you only had to tell the story with just two photographs from each segment of your trip? What would you choose?”

12-photo summary….

Rebekah Maul Mars Hill
Athens from the Acropolis

Hmmmm… that’s a tough one! Athens; Cairo; Sinai; Petra; Galilee; Jerusalem. Leaving out another dozen or so important points of interest, how would I select twelve images that collectively capture the flavor of our traveling experience?

So with it fresh on my mind I’m going to give it a try. First, some words, along with one photo for each place. Then I’ll include all 12 in the slides at the end:

ATHENS:

Our twelve hour layover in Athens was not wasted. Of course we headed to the Acropolis. And there I grabbed an image of Rebekah on the Acropolis, looking out over the teeming millions who live in the city today. Paul – standing on Mars Hill in that very place – introduced the Greek-thinking world to the idea that God existed beyond their limited understanding of the cosmos. It’s an idea that drives my creativity and my mission today. We think we know so much, and with such certainty, yet God constantly challenges the parameters of our understanding, always inviting us to know more, and to trust more, and to grow in our faith.

CAIRO:

DSC_0324Cairo, for me, was such a study in contrasts. On the one hand there is the touristy wonder of the Great Pyramids – travel glam in its highest expression. Then, the other side of the metropolis, is Garbage City, where a sub-class of Egyptians eke out a living – barely – literally from garbage hauled out there day after day after day.

Garbage City is where we met the children of Mother Maggie’s Mission. One child only per family, because resources are limited and the need so great. The hope is that the light, and the education, planted in that one child will seed hope and opportunity and promise to the others in each family.

So my images for Cairo must include both the glamor and the garbage; past glory and present reality; picture postcard moments and desperate poverty.

SINAI:

but totally safe....On to Sinai, probably my signature moment of the journey. Click here – Destination God – for details of my predawn pilgrimage to the summit.

The wilderness where Moses led the Children of Israel for such a long time is an unforgiving wasteland; it’s no wonder the Promised Land looked to be flowing with milk and honey! But it was there, in the day by day struggle, that God carved out the identity of his people.

I can’t help but be inspired anew every time I think about Sinai. I can’t remember my encounter with God on the top of the mountain without considering my responsibility to bring that light back into the valley. I can’t do anything other than thank God for my blessings when I consider the long story of God’s faithful love as told through the Biblical narrative.

PETRA:

DSC_0421_2Then, crossing over into Jordan, we experienced the overwhelm of Petra. The magnificent archeological site, strewn over several square miles of rugged terrain, remains one of the most remarkable places Rebekah and I have ever witnessed. A flourishing civilization inhabited the valley until it was finally abandoned after one more crushing earthquake in the Middle Ages.

Of all the places we were exposed to on this tour, Petra surprised me the most.

  • If you want to be amazed, then you absolutely have to visit Petra.
  • If you want to see everything, be prepared to walk miles and climb hundreds of feet.
  • If you want to wait for the Middle East to be safe… then you’ll never go!
  • If you want to limit your exposure to the world to a gentle stroll around Disney’s Epcot Center, then – well – I can’t adequately express my disappointment.

GALILEE:

DSC_1145All – absolutely ALL – of Israel is worthy of a million photographs. But this post is limited to Galilee and Jerusalem. Galilee is where Jesus spent the majority of his public ministry, all within the parameters of a day’s walk. That fact alone is worth mulling over. Jesus is the single most impactful teacher in the history of the world, and – other than his years as a refugee in Egypt as an infant – Jerusalem is likely the farthest he every traveled from home.

Galilee literally resonates with the echo of Christ’s life. His words, his love, his belief, his faithfulness, his mercy, his grace. All this seems to hang in the air and inhabit the hills, and the water of the lake, and the very stones we walked on. I chose the picture of me at the Sea of Galilee, thinking about the ripples of faith over time, and then the image of our group walking the road from Nazareth to Galilee, pilgrims ourselves on a path Jesus took many times.

JERUSALEM:

@[670927216:2048:Rebekah Maul] at Pool of Bethesda
Rebekah – Pool of Bethesda
Jerusalem – the place where Jesus shared some of his most powerful words and where he gave his life because of his complete love for each one of us – cannot be reduced to two images. But I guess I have to try. I have to begin with the view of the city from the Mount of Olives. It’s a bucket-list photograph, but it holds so much of the story.

Then I’m settling on the picture I took of Rebekah at the pool of Bethesda. The story – from John 4 – is one of her perennial “top-five” scriptures (there are, by the way, upwards of 50 references in Rebekah’s top five!). It’s the simple sentiment of the question Jesus asks; “Do you want to be healed?”

I think it’s probably the most important question Jesus is still asking – asking of his followers, asking of those on the periphery, and asking of those people who don’t believe they want anything to do with faith.

The question is still on the table: do you want that kind of healing?

– DEREK

Seeing Jesus in the Morning Fog

Seeing Jesus in the Morning Fog

Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” – Mark 8:17-18

This morning’s walk reminded me of some of the conversations I have had recently about clarity. There were three things Jesus said repeatedly, and in various ways, during his ministry, and they go like this:

  1. “Would you people open your eyes just a little bit for crying out loud!”
  2. “Hello? Is anybody home? Have the twelve of you forgotten to put your listening ears on this morning?”
  3. “Duh!”

IMG_9522Well I’m not absolutely sure about that last one, but I am one hundred percent certain Jesus would have inserted “duh” in many places had the word – or it’s Aramaic equivalent – been invented two thousand years ago.

I enjoy the way an early morning mist hangs onto the trees, mutes the view, blankets all the sounds of the day, and keeps the temperature down. Then, when it lifts, the sunlight floods in and everything is completely different in an instant.

When the mist is still there, there’s a dimension of vision it’s easy to miss when the sun blazes and the shadows become so deep. In certain ways, I can see more when the colors are muted and the light is more evenly diffused.

That’s a lot like life in the regular, routine, day to day. It’s fun to be in church in the flood of blazing light, to feel the warmth of fellowship from my men’s group companions on the journey, to listen to inspirational messages and enjoy beautiful music… But it’s in my day by day walk with God that I often stop for more intimate conversations with Jesus, and in the challenge of peering closely into the fog to see more clearly that I often do.

The key to clarity is not just open eyes, but sometimes new eyes.

So I guess that makes one more for the list – #4 from Jesus: “Come on, people! Don’t you remember anything at all?” 

It’s a valid question – DEREK